Being fifteen years old sucks shit.
If you read at least the first part of Julian Cope's Autobiography Head On, you'll recognise the sentiment. I've been reading those pages myself these past few days and some things have hit me, some things have come back to me, revisited me through the murk of time. Before I go back on that dreary trail though, I need to say a few things, specifically about Cope's book, which is maybe specifically about Cope himself and maybe more generally about books about musicians, and then again more generally about the whole stinking r'n'r style.
See, I'm not some stupid old dimwit puritan about drugs, I just tend to object to most of them on aesthetic grounds; as turned off by the cultural associations as I suspect some equally impressionable folk are turned on by them. It's just always seemed so dirty, so unproductive (and don't go boring me with your tales of Huxley and Burroughs or whoever, I just don't need them thanks very much), so aimless and miserable. Not that I'm averse to miserable and those among you who might point and say that washing your pain away with booze is no different, well, I agree. I'm a hypocrite. Fucking sue me. So where the first 96 pages of Head On are full of marvellously inspirational torrents of words documenting the fast, hard madness of the developing punk and post-punk scene of Liverpool (with rightly inspirational documentation of the vitality of the Subway Sect, Television, The Fall and, again and again, the might of Pere Ubu) on page 97 Cope has had his first joint, on 98 his first acid experience and from then on it's a horribly ugly, boring account of drug experiences. It all just seems to collapse… I mean I haven't read further yet but you know, I don't know if I can really be bothered.
It's sad, because I fucking loved the Teardrop Explodes. The spell was broken in the late '80s when Cope was releasing some pretty dull records and someone pointed out that he sounded like Mickey Mouse, particularly on my all-time favourite Cope song 'Tiny Children', but that's getting ahead of myself. Like I said, I loved the Teardrop Explodes, and one of my deepest jealousies is still the fact that a fellow Tangenteer has an original clipping of the Marvel comic that gave the group their name framed in his studio. How sad am I? Pretty fucking sad. Like you didn't already know…
I loved the Teardrop Explodes. I was fourteen, going on fifteen and the world was shit, but I watched TV and there was Cope flailing about on Top Of The Pops with this great mop of blond hair and those crazy furry leather boots, and those chunky sweaters… the whole band looked great, a complete opposite of all the faux fashion fuck ups that were always on there. I mean, I had no education although I knew how to do quadratic equations, but I just knew that the Teardrop Explodes were the coolest thing. Kids in school were either into the Metal thing or still into the Pistols. I mean, we were kids, but that's no excuse is it?
There were two kids called Michael Gibson in my class. One was tall and beat me up all the time until once we both got belted by our RE teacher for talking when he was out the class. After that he was my mate all the time, which was creepy. The other one was really little and totally cool. He cried when Ian Curtis died, whilst everyone else was like 'who the hell is Ian Curtis?' We were still in the first year then or something. Gibby was a great educator for a while. We sat in Chemistry class drilling holes in the floor of the annexe with the legs of our stools, and through the holes we poured an assortment of chemicals, fireworks and any shit we could find. When we weren't doing that he was slagging off the cover of my folder, telling me how shit the groups all were (sometimes he got it badly wrong; I would concede the lack of insight in penning 'Blancmange' for example, but I stand by The Au Pairs until I die) and telling me to listen to darker, harder stuff. He kept coming back to Joy Division and The Fall at that time, which was fair enough, but he blew it when he told me he thought the Teardrop Explodes were shit, and from then on he started getting more into the rock thing, falling in with the metal heads and droning on about Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. He even started wearing denim jackets with patches on the back, which was the end of course.
I heard 'Reward' everywhere and I read Smash Hits when I could. My friend Alan played guitar and had been a huge Ruts fan, and he always had money so always had new records, magazines and papers. I read what I could but I really never went out of the house if I could help it. I swiped pictures from Alan's magazines and had Cope on my wall everywhere that wasn't already covered in pictures of Ligier Grand Prix cars, Didier Pironi or Gilles Villeneuve. I wanted to hear Pere Ubu and all the other freakish things he talked about, but it was difficult being skint and uselessly cocooned and mad. I taped things from Peel sometimes but I had only a shitty transistor and a crap tape recorder that you had to push close to the radio to record. It distorted to hell, which was probably great, but I was too crap to know it. I mean, I knew that all this stuff was amazing, and I knew somewhere deep inside that these sounds and these people saying all these strange things were important, but still… like I said, being fifteen sucks shit.
Kilimanjaro was my first album, if you don't count the Carpenters LP I strangely made my parents buy me for my tenth birthday. I played it on my dad's new stereo, listening through headphones in the living room, and I played it on the old red Marconiphone in the cramped space of my bedroom. The Marconiphone sounded crackly and shit, but I could lose myself in my room so it was better of course. I thought I looked like Cope and I would smother my hair with my mum's hairspray to try and get it looking as fucked up as it ought to. It was naturally limp though, just like me, and always flopped back into a stupid kiddies cut after a half hour. I knew even then that I was in with no chance, that living vicariously through others was the only way to go, and I thought that living through the Teardrop Explodes was pretty good. No one else much noticed of course, but that wasn't really the point. I was Cope inside, and fuck everyone else.
I really was hopeless. I lost touch with everything pretty much. I had no connections with the world; a year takes forever when you're fifteen and I felt like I was adrift already. I got used to that feeling I guess. I can't remember a fucking thing really. I mean I remember being beat up, but that sounds so pathetically self-pitying. I do remember hearing 'Tiny Children' somewhere and feeling the world stop spinning.
What's real when you're fifteen? Pop and girls and boys. I guess I was fifteen when I heard 'Tiny Children'. If I wasn't, I had just turned sixteen, and that's even harder to think about for anyone.
Gillian Taylor was the Art teacher's daughter and she was so out of reach you never even thought about it. One of those taken-as-reads that haunt you when you're that age: the things that are written in stone, just so pointless to think about and yet impossible to not think about. Always in your head, always in your mind, eating away… I can't even recall what she looked like now, but I do remember the afternoon she said in class that her favourite ever song was 'Tiny Children' by the Teardrop Explodes. Of course by then no one really cared about Cope, and that made it even better. And of course I didn't say a thing, I just sat and scowled in the corner, forgotten. Years later I saw her again in Glasgow, in the bar on Sauchiehall Street used by most of the Art School crowd in the days before the Vic served alcohol. She was kissing some fifty year old guy with a beard and I thought 'how could she!' He looked nothing like Julian Cope.
Wilder blew my mind. It was all psychedelic mayhem, although I didn't know it, just knew that the songs were fucking scary and way in the clouds. For some years afterwards my bedroom was designated 'The Culture Bunker', and it was there that I totally fucked myself, smuggling in bottles of vodka and Bacardi that fuelled shit poetry, and playing Wilder and Simple Minds' Reel to Reel way too many times for comfort.
Like I said, some years later someone laughed at 'Tiny Children' and said it sounded like Mickey Mouse singing. I took that hard, and because it was important, I had to agree; like I had to agree on the awfulness of Weller and The Jam. I was too pathetic to know my own head, to know that the contradictions of your soul are what makes you real, and besides, sometimes in some things you have to move on and on and on.
But really, I don't know if I ever grew out of the Teardrop Explodes. I don't know that I ever grew out of anything. Perhaps that's why I'm still here, alone in rooms, feverishly consuming records and writing gibberish.
© J. Wentworth Crazy 1999